The winter of 1739-40

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The winter of 1739-40 was one of the most severe ever remembered, and from the long continuance of the frost from Christmas Day, 1739, to February 17th, 1740, when it began to thaw, but very gradually, it has been known ever since as the Great Frost.

It was impossible for the colliers from the north to get up the river, and the distress among the poorer classes was terrible, not only from want of fuel, food and water, but also of work. The watermen and fishermen with a peterboat in mourning, and the carpenters, bricklayers, and labourers walked in procession through the streets begging, and to the honour of the city and all, great sums were collected and disbursed.

Another terrible calamity happened a few days after the frost had begun : there was a terrible gale which did incalculable damage in the river, dragging vessels from their moorings and dashing them against one another, while the large sheets of ice floating in the stream overwhelmed the wherries and lighters and barges, and sunk many, especially those laden with coal and corn.

Above the bridge the Thames was frozen completely over and a Frost Fair was held on it. Various shops were opened for the sale of toys, cutlery, and other light articles.

Printing presses were set up and the usual drinking booths and puppet shows abounded. All sorts of sports and activities were there, and the place became a perfect carnival, as if the populace were utterly oblivious of the misery and distress which existed on shore.

Next page: The opening of Blackfriars Bridge